It's The Motion of the Ocean


 Years ago my ex and I vacayed in Hawaii. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever met a divorced person who did not vacay in Hawaii with their ex. I think there’s a definite marriage itinerary most couples follow: Babies. Check.  Promise of weekly date nights that we did twice. Check. Fight over kitchen flooring. Check. Vacay in Hawaii. Check.

Okay we are cleared for divorce.

Anyhow during that trip, we went snorkeling. It’s spectacular they said. Wait til’ you see all the cool fish they said. Experience of a lifetime they said. So I went. And I put on the goggles which I think was the beginning of my disappearing eyebrows and I put the disgusting rubber thing in my mouth, which we know was coated with all kinds of tourist spit.

Then, I waded out to where the water was about waist deep and put my head under. I instantly stopped breathing. Instantly.  I stood straight up and made my way to the shore like a giant bird with flippered feet slapping up and down, gasping for air with snorkel in mouth, mask on head, stepping over moms and dads and five year olds swimming beneath me pointing at stuff.

It’s not that I don’t I love the water. I do. I love putting my feet in it and listening to waves lap the shore and seeing dolphins jump and all of that. But I can’t breathe in it. It’s unnatural. The thought of it terrifies me. And yet, I decided to take a surfing lesson in California.

It was during the infamous women’s retreat, the day after my disco yoga experience. We drove out to the beach to meet Kevin our surf instructor. It was myself and two other ladies from the retreat and guess what? They are both figure skaters! So awesome, right? They are tiny and athletic and adorable. So great. We parked and then meandered through the lot looking for Kevin, the two little gals setting a jaunty pace with me lumbering behind.

I’m expecting to meet Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, or a Brad Pitt-ish type in board shorts, bare chested with a hang ten tattoo, or at the very least a young blonde GOD, you know, a California guy. We finally found Kevin standing in front of his van, the kind of van that makes you run inside and call the police if you see it drive past your house.

Kevin is probably 55 or thereabouts, with a gray ponytail and a headband. He is wearing a wetsuit that is unzipped and pulled down over his belly which has seen better days and  I’m not judging believe me. I am not one to point fingers at anyone’s belly considering I have not let mine see the light of day since 1997.  Just saying he is not exactly what I expected.

He begins pulling wetsuits out of the back of the van. He hands one to each of the figure skaters and fumbles around a bit more before finding one suitable for me. The skaters pull theirs on over their bikinis without much of a to-do. I of course have come fully clothed. So, how can I describe this to you...Okay. Imagine trying to pull a wet, full body Spanx on in front of an audience. I know you’ve seen this horrific thing take place when you are alone in front of your bathroom mirror. But imagine doing it in a crowded parking lot where people are trying to avert their eyes yet can’t seem to look away.

Okay, phew. Finally we make our way to the beach where Kevin has some boards standing up against big sand dunes. He lays two little ones and one big one down on the sand and tells us to each go stand on one, pointing me to the bigger one, as if it needed pointing out. We get it Kevin, they’re figure skaters.

And he says, “Lay face down on the board,” which we do. Are you kidding me? This is so easy. Then he says, “Now stand on the board with one foot in front of the other,” which again, we all do and then he points at me and says, “You do that weird.”

“Oh well,” he says. “Let’s head to the water.” What?  But I’m standing weird! On the sand!  I assume it’s not a problem as he and the figure skaters put their boards over their shoulders and head for the surf, while I sort of drag my tree trunk of a board along behind them.

Once in the water we have to paddle out quite a ways, I mean, like QUITE a ways which is nothing for people with tiny arms who figure skate when they get bored, but a bit much for someone who does pilates twice a week providing it’s not book club week.  And this is the California surf people. It’s like the subway station in New York only on the water. It’s packed. People of all ages are surfing, racing towards the shore with no regard for middle-aged women who never learned to swim even though they grew up in Florida, because a kid threw up in the pool on her first swim lesson and she refused to ever go back.

So you have the basic setting now. Against all odds I finally make it out to where Kevin stands ready to help each one of us take our maiden voyage. My turn. “Now lay down, with your hands gripping the sides, no not so tight, Amy honey, you gotta loosen up!” 

Okay. Loosen up, loosen up.

“Now when I say GO, get to your knees and then stand up quick, ready?” Yup. Totally ready.

Knees then stand. Knees then stand.

He gives me a mighty push and yells “Go, GO!” and that’s all I heard because I was instantly completely submerged with water in my nose and my mouth and my ears and I thought, “Does Kevin know I’m drowning?” and then I thought, “Wasn’t Mark Wahlburg cute in The Perfect Storm, or wait was that Matt Damon?” and then I thought “Oh God who will get this wet suit off me or will I just be buried in it?” And then for some odd reason I thought, “Those frozen iced teas Carole made yesterday were so good,” and then suddenly I emerged from the depths into the light sucking in air.

And I did it the exact same way eight more times.

Nope. I never did stand up, but you know what? The best part was coming up from beneath the depths and just holding on to the board bobbing along in the waves after each attempt. It was…so freeing. “So this is what zen is,” I thought. Now I get it. I just bobbed along with the sun hitting my head, my feet barely touching the bottom of the ocean, the air warm but crisp. I took big deep breaths and realized that nothing hurt! Not my creaky knees or my shoulders which are always up around my ears from all the typing and worrying and thinking and what if’ing. It was like, wow, I’m just kind of…being.

It was one of the best experiences of my life.  

Probably not of Kevin’s though because he had to carry my board all the way back to the parking lot. It was too big to throw over my shoulder and my arms were pretty tired. He was totally sweet about it, the big lug.

Driving back to the retreat house with the figure skaters I realized that no, I will probably never stand up and ride the waves of the California surf. And it’s okay. I don’t have to ride. I can float. I can breathe. I can just be.

The point is, dude, I am so totally stoked. For a few blissful moments in the California surf, I found my zen.

Finally. It wasn’t in Nordstrom Rack after all.